New 'strong floor' to aid engineering research


CORVALLIS - If you're the kind of person who likes a sturdy workbench that you can whack, pummel and pound on, you'd appreciate the newest facility built by Oregon State University engineers --- a massive, concrete "strong floor" that can take just about any pressure or load you could imagine.

The facility is essential to some of the research done in civil and construction engineering, officials say, and when completed will be the most sophisticated of its type in the Pacific Northwest. It's another significant step forward for the OSU College of Engineering's effort to become one of the nation's top-25 schools of engineering education and research.

This floor isn't going anywhere. It's 24 feet wide, 68 feet long and five feet thick of steel-reinforced concrete, with massive bolts and anchors to which materials can be attached and their strength tested.

"Structures are still the vanguard of civil and construction engineering, and if you want to have a great program combining both research and teaching in this area you need a facility such as this," said Chris Higgins, an assistant professor in the College of Engineering. "Now we can test, at full scale, new high performance materials, innovative connectors, seismic energy dissipating devices, as well as different configurations of traditional steel and concrete materials that might be used to provide more efficient or economical structures."

The new facility will aid research on such things as bridge girders, bridge decks, beam column connections, shear walls and other things used in constructing buildings, bridges, and infrastructure.

The need for the new strong floor, Higgins said, was such that a number of Pacific Northwest construction companies and other industries donated materials and helped pay for its construction.

"Large steel reaction frames attached to the strong floor will allow us to apply forces to any component we want to test," Higgins said. "For instance, we could apply 800,000 pounds of crushing force to a beam using just a few of the attachment points. The facility we were using previously was much too small and limited the configurations and size of tests we could do."

There are important questions at hand, Higgins said. For example, after the 1994 Northridge earthquake in California, some cracks were found in steel girders that were not expected - they simply had never been tested at real-world size.

OSU is already working with the Oregon Department of Transportation to study the sheer behavior of corrosion-damaged bridge girders, using large-size specimens and accelerated corrosion cells to reflect actual field conditions in the laboratory. The study could be invaluable in the state's efforts to maintain and cost-effectively repair some of its magnificent coastal bridges.